The MV Doña Paz in the deep sea of oblivion

by | Dec 21, 2021 | Marine Accidents and Safety

The 20th of December 2021 marked the 34th anniversy of the Philippines’ Doña Paz ferry tragedy. As usual, the day whizzed past with nary a tribute to the 4,341 (by official count) who died on that fateful December day in 1987. No, it was not because of the mad holiday rush. As I pointed out in my 2010 blog post, Filipinos have such short memories and Philippine ship operators have amnesia.

In memory of the Doña Paz victims, I am sharing below an oil painting by the English Romantic artist, Joseph Mallord William Turner. It is followed by a poem by the English novelist and poet, Dinah Maria Craik.

Turner’s Calm Sea with Distant Grey Clouds’ may well symbolise the fading of the Doña Paz from the nation’s memory. On the other hand, Craik’s ‘A Dream of Death’ is a kind of universal tribute to all those who have perished at sea. The words in the penultimate stanza are particularly moving: “Yet all is peace. The dead that, while we slept, / Struggled for life, now sleep and feare no storms: / O’er them let us not weep when heaven smiles.”

Calm Sea with Distant Grey Clouds, ?c.1840–5
Joseph Mallord William Turner (English, 1775–1851)
Photo © Tate
Licence: Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

A Dream Of Death

by Dinah Maria Craik (1826–1887)

Where shall we sail to-day?’–Thus said, methought,
A voice that only could be heard in dreams:
And on we glided without mast or oar,
A wondrous boat upon a wondrous sea.

Sudden, the shore curved inward to a bay,
Broad, calm, with gorgeous sea-weeds waving slow
Beneath the water, like rich thoughts that stir
In the mysterious deep of poets’ hearts.

So still, so fair, so rosy in the dawn
Lay that bright bay: yet something seemed to breath,
Or in the air, or from the whispering waves,
Or from that voice, as near as one’s own soul,

‘There was a wreck last night.’ A wreck? then where
The ship, the crew?–The all-entombing sea
On which is writ nor name nor chronicle
Laid itself o’er them with smooth crystal smile.

‘Yet was the wreck last night.’. And gazing down
Deep down below the surface, we were ware
Of ghastly faces with their open eyes
Uplooking to the dawn they could not see.

One moved with moving sea-weeds: one lay prone,
The tinted fishes gliding o’er his breast;
One, caught by floating hair, rocked quietly
Upon his reedy cradle, like a child.

‘The wreck has been’–said the melodious voice,
‘Yet all is peace. The dead, that, while we slept,
Struggled for life, now sleep and fear no storms:
O’er them let us not weep when heaven smiles.’

So we sailed on above the diamond sands,
Bright sea-flowers, and white faces stony calm,
Till the waves bore us to the open main,
And the great sun arose upon the world.

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